Hot summer nights: ‘In my lonely shack I’d hear footsteps and think of axe murderers’

Hot summer nights: ‘In my lonely shack I’d hear footsteps and think of axe murderers’

I fell hard for life in the Vosges in France. But when it got dark I couldn’t helped being spooked by every rustle, bark and footstep I heard. Then a night drinking outside changed everything

Eighteen-and-a-bit years ago, pushing 40, tired of England and keen to spend more time with my daughter, who was growing up in France, I packed in my job, left London and moved to the Vosges mountains in the east of the country. It was an idyllic spot: a little stark, vaguely unkempt, full of dark forests, crystalline lakes and gnarled locals with chainsaws in their sheds and bulldozers in their gardens. When they weren’t turning trees into firewood, they were digging out ponds – or possibly graves. In the second world war, they told me, there had been a murder near my home; the killer had buried his victim in a cabbage patch. But I digress.

Home was a draughty stone shack a couple of miles from the nearest village, down a dirt track flanked by spruces and silver birch. My nearest neighbour was a three-minute walk away, and when the birches were in leaf you couldn’t see another house. Indoors, I was plagued by dormice, and a shrew once dropped from the bedroom ceiling. Outside, there were red squirrels, buzzards and small animals that ran and squeaked in the undergrowth all day long. Sometimes I would open my front door to find a doe and her fawns cropping the lawn. I fell hard and fast for the Vosges.

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